The Never Ending Tour Extended: Positively 4th Street, 1994-2006.


I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.

The Never Ending Tour Extended: This series uses recordings selected by Mike Johnson in his inestimable masterpiece The Never Ending Tour, and looks at how those performances of individual songs change as time goes by.   The selection of songs from the series, and the commentary below, are by Tony Attwood.

Positively 4th Street was issued as a single (at least in Britain if not everywhere) and then turned up on the Greatest Hits album.  Bob played it 359 times between October 1 1965 and November 7 2013, which puts the song in the top 50 of his most-performed songs.

1994: Greatest ever Hard Rain

The earliest recording we have from the Never Ending Tour series is this 1994 version which manipulates the melody to such a degree that the song loses its link with the past in the first and third lines of each verse.   The negativity of the lyrics – and these are some of the most negative lyrics that Bob has ever written –  are thus emphasised totally.

And indeed the fact that the song is so utterly strophic (ie, verse, verse, verse etc) adds to the pain that has always been in the lyrics, but is itself curiously not utterly central to the music.   Only the instrumental break gives any relief for this outpouring of grief and anger – made all the more painful by the slowdown just after the five-minute mark as the pain is mulled over more and more, until we are past seven minutes.  It is amazingly effective and desperately depressing.

But then as the year continued Bob clearly felt that he had not taken this down as far as it could go and later the same year he transported the song down to a lower key and made it even slower, adding getting on for an extra two minutes to an already massively extended track.  What this version now gives us is not so much anger as desperate sadness.


1996: Busy being born. With Al Kooper in Liverpool

This latter version was obviously one that Bob felt did something for his song of desperation for it was this refined version that then stayed on the tour.  And, we thought, surely this as far as this piece can go.

But no, Bob is not so easily satisfied, for it turns out that the anger can be rinsed right out of the piece, and despite the words can be replaced by utter sadness.

1996: Berlin and Beyond

And indeed one might think that the 1996 performance once again was just about as far as it could go.  I won’t take you through all the variations that came thereafter, but will now jump through to the last performance of which we have a recording, from the Never Ending Tour series.

Bob did continue to perform it as we have noted, until 2013, but this 2006 tour version shows his feeling for the fact that all he has is eight bars of music repeated over and over throughout the song he can not only get a performance of six or minutes out of the song, he can also find changes that allow us to find more and more nuances within, which somehow were never there before.

And although of course it is a coincidence, this last recording we have for this song from the Never Ending Tour, really does seem to sum it all up.

2006: Strange Brews

Other articles in this series…

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